Thursday, May 22, 2008
While researching my forthcoming book Inside "The Screwtape Letters" (Baker Books), I came across a comic/graphic novel based on The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. Published in 1994 by Thomas Nelson in cooperation with Marvel, the comic attempts to compress all of the letters into a comic book format.
Does the comic book succeed? Not really, though it does have occasionally amusing imagery. It may have limited uses such as introducing junior high students to Lewis and Screwtape, but beyond that it is more a curiosity.
The Screwtape Letters is packed with insights on human nature and this is difficult to translate into a comic. The imagery dominates the words or, as Jacques Ellul might put it, the images in the comic humiliate the words (see The Humiliation of the Word by Ellul).
In many ways, The Screwtape Letters is a genre-defying book. Is it satire? Is it devotional? Theological? Epistolary? Fantasy? Apologetics? It blends all of these genres to one extent or another, but in my assessment it is more satirical, devotional, and theological.
Incidentally, Walden Media is working to bring The Screwtape Letters to the big screen. The pre-production has been stalled due to script issues. I've heard they tried to set it in a modern office building ("The Office" meets Screwtape? Steve Carell might make a good Wormwood!).
But given the difficulties of portraying Screwtape using illustrations, will a film also encounter such obstacles? I think so. And they will be compounded by the nature of Screwtape itself. This does not mean that I don't think capable filmmakers can adapt Screwtape to film, but if they think they've had challenges bringing Narnia to the big screen, Screwtape presents a lot more in the way of obstacles.
The Screwtape Letters is in many ways an introspective book, calling us to examine ourselves carefully. I think it may defy being faithfully translated to film. Perhaps that's not a bad thing. In an age of multimedia over saturation, quiet time with a great book is what a lot of people need, myself included.
I admit that The Screwtape Letters grew on me slowly and only after multiple readings over the course of several years. It took me a long time to "get it" and appreciate its literary grandeur and biting insights. But it's one of the most rewarding books I've read (and re-read). In some ways it beckons one to read it again and again at different times in life, much like the Narnia books.